IT is a scandal that Australian education is being held to ransom by a few hundred academics and mid-ranking bureaucrats who prioritise their own careers over the literacy of our children.
The Australian government’s National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy found in 2005 that literacy instruction should be “grounded in the basic building blocks of reading” – namely the set of integrated sub-skills that include letter-symbol rules, letter-sound rules, whole-word recognition and the ability to derive meaning from written text.
It did not support the “reading is magic” philosophy.
The inquiry chairman, Ken Rowe, observed three years later that he regretted that, despite the clear direction of rigorous research, very little had changed because “higher-education providers of education and those who provide ongoing professional development of teachers, with few exceptions, are still puddling around in post-modernist claptrap about how children learn to read”.
To me, it is immoral to allow so many Australian children to be victims of a failed educational fad. We are not just failing to teach these kids to read – we are destroying their confidence as learners. We teach them to hate school.
Yes! Who can’t love those extracts? Post-modernist claptrap indeed.* The education system is infested with it. Okay – so why am I dubious about this op-ed?
One of the reasons I decided to run for federal parliament was to confront this problem.
It is time for federal intervention. The states have shown an inability to address this problem.
Alannah MacTiernan is almost certainly in the wrong party with those sorts of opinions and very definitely in the wrong parliament. Mind you, she was a minister in the WA government and didn’t seem to do much about education. (That might be unfair, and she is welcome to write a guest post explaining her side of the story).
One of the reasons why state governments have been unable to do anything about this problem is a core ALP constituency – the education bureaucracies and the education unions (not the actual teachers mind you). The former Kennett government in Victoria was moving to a model where school principals had the kind of power that MacTiernan talks about in her op-ed. That was one of the first things the Bracks government dumped when it came to power.
Education is, quite rightly, a state function. A challenge for the Commission of Audit will be whether it recommends the abolition of the Commonwealth department of education. Under the terms of reference I can’t see how it will avoid that recommendation – but I’m sure they will manufacture an argument of dubious merit.
There is actually nothing wrong with being passionate about education and running for parliament to do something about it. I actually agree with MacTiernan’s analysis. Not her solutions. There is very little the Commonwealth can do about education, except throw money at it. As she tells us:
The public is rightfully perplexed as to how Australia can pour so much money into education and yet keep hearing that our general literacy is declining.
The education system does not want for money – it wants for tough minded parents, and politicians, and teachers to say “Enough! No more hippies. No more bullshit.” With proper method every child can be taught to read. There are known problems that make it harder for some children – these problems should be dealt with on an exception basis. But there is no excuse for an education system to mass produce expensive illiterates.
* What does the phrase “above-average level of development vulnerability” mean? That is part of the problem.